Sunday, August 28, 2022

Review of "Finding Buck McHenry," by Alfred Slote

 Review of

Finding Buck McHenry, by Alfred Slote ISBN 0064404692

Five out of five stars

Great retrospective on the Negro Leagues

 While this book of adolescent sports fictions can stand as a sports book only, what makes it a winner is that the reader is exposed to some of the characters and characteristics of the Negro Leagues when baseball was strictly segregated. The experiences of the black players before integration is something that needs to be exposed more.

 Jason is a thirteen-year-old boy that is devoted to collecting baseball cards. He also wants to play baseball and is trying out for a Little League team. When he is cut and sent to what is the equivalent of an expansion team, he hits the skids. Right after being cut, he is asked to pick up the bases and take them to the elementary school. While there, he talks with Mack Henry, the longtime custodian. Mack shows him what he did wrong, and it is clear to Jason that Mack knows a great deal about baseball.

 When Jason goes to the local sports card store, he sees a Negro League card of Buck McHenry and he becomes convinced that Buck and Mack are the same person. This starts a chain of events where Mack becomes the coach of the expansion team where his grandson Aaron is finally coaxed out of his shell of grief. Aaron’s parents and sibling were killed in an auto accident, so Aaron has moved in with his grandparents.

 The combination of the proprietor of the card shop, a famous sports reporter and his baseball star daughter, Aaron’s powerful pitching arm and the backdrop of the history of baseball make a great story. Particularly important are the inclusion of what some of the baseball stars said about their Negro colleagues in the days of segregation. When the great Honus Wager was told that John Lloyd was called the “Black Honus Wagner,” Wagner replied, “I am honored to have John Lloyd called the Black Wagner.”

 While there are a few unexpected twists in this story, it keeps your attention and is one that is hard to put down. It is a lesson in both history and a great piece of fiction. It was deservedly made into a movie.

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